Did you know that Chesil Beach not only joins Portland and Abbotsbury but it also divides? This striking, 8 mile shingle beach protects a shallow lagoon (known as The Fleet) from the ravages of the sea creating a truly beautiful and peaceful place to walk and enjoy an abundance of wildlife.
The unique characteristics of The Fleet make it a fascinating and beautiful habitat for a diverse range of animals, birds and plants. The waters of the Fleet are tidal, being filled and partially emptied twice each day by the sea, making the water brackish. While the Fleet is most famous as the home of a very large mute swan colony, which can be visited at the Abbotsbury Swannery, it is also a great place to come and see Dark Bellied Brent Geese, Common Greenshank, Little Egrets, Common Pochard, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Coot. The Fleet also supports substantial populations of fish, including bass and eels. No fishing is allowed and most boats are banned unless you have a licence. Swimming is not recommended!
Made famous by J. Meade Faulkner’s smuggling novel Moonfleet published in 1898, the village of Moonfleet lies close to the lagoon of the same name and is especially picturesque. In 1824, parts of the village and most of the Old Fleet Church were destroyed by a huge storm. What was left of the church remains standing today, tiny but pretty, with a few gravestones in the churchyard. There are a number of accommodation options in the area including the Georgian manor house that is Moonfleet Manor Hotel (also great for meals and activities), and our own Greystones and Moonfleet.
Whilst the Fleet is now recognized and protected for its national and international importance ecologically, in the past it has served the nation in other ways. Until the 1970s, a string of World War Two pill boxes stretched the length of the Chesil as part of defenses to prevent the beach being used for troop landings. Those on the Chesil have now been washed away but a few remain on the Fleet’s landward shore. Other military activity in the area includes several army camps including a rifle range – which is still functional today – and the bridging camp, where engineers practice building bridges across the Fleet at one of its narrower points.